Katie McColgan, mother of six and member of the Bridgend Ward, Cardiff Stake, is the chair of the Interfaith Council for Wales. Here she describes her work as Chair, with some background:
As a child, I can remember asking why our Church was not a member of the Council of Churches, and why all the faiths could not work together? I never received a satisfactory answer. When I married my Northern Irish husband, we visited family during ‘the troubles’ and heard some prejudices first-hand.
I keenly felt the need for talking, understanding, and compassion. After so much heartache, it was only the peace talks, not the bombs, that eventually brought the country to rest.
Professionally, I am a family solicitor but, about 12 years ago, a miscarriage set me back. I wanted to give up work, change my life, and do something completely different. I felt there was something more important that I was supposed to do with my life, but at the same time I needed to stay put. It was not especially what I wanted, but I waited and waited with anticipation. Eight years went by. I wondered whether a change was ever going to happen, or whether I had just imagined it would happen.
When I started my search for my ‘important work’, I came across these words by Orson Whitney, which profoundly affected me:
‘God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvellous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people. Our part in it is the greatest. We have the gospel and the priesthood, with a mission to gather Israel, build the New Jerusalem, and prepare the way for the advent of the King of kings. And this duty has been laid upon us because we belong to the house of Israel. It is the God of Israel who is coming to reign, and we are the right people to prepare the way before him.
‘We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense. The name Gentile is not with us a term of reproach. … It simply means, with us, one who does not belong to the Church. We need the Gentiles, and they need us, but they don't know it, and we do. They are wiser than we are in material things—the things of Earth and Time. But when it comes to spiritual things—the things of Heaven and Eternity, we can teach them. We need their wealth and worldly wisdom, their wonderful skill in managing and manipulating temporalities. And they need the Gospel and the Priesthood. They need us, for we hold in our hands the Key to their eternal salvation.
‘Again, I say, the Lord's Work has need of auxiliaries outside as well as inside, to help it along. Because of their worldly influence—which would depart if they connected themselves with the Church—many are kept where they are, where the Lord has placed them, and can best use them for the good of all. (Conference Report, April 1928, p.59-60).”
Towards the end of those eight years, I was surprised to receive a telephone call asking me to meet with the Stake President. As I fretted and pondered, I suddenly knew that this was it. I was about to start my ‘important work’. I knew I was going to be called into Public Affairs. To be honest, this terrified me, but also exhilarated me. I was finally going to get started. I knew I was going to love the expected interfaith work, and I did!
After two years as Stake Director of Public Affairs, I was given the opportunity to join the Interfaith Council as a ‘second’ to Julie Jones who represented the Church. I made it my mission to go to as many other faiths’ places of worship and activity as I could, working around my own church attendance. In reaching out, I came to experience some ‘holy envy’, to see some of the inspiring and faithful worship practices of others that could enrich me; by stepping into their places of worship, it was possible to meld hearts.
I made so many friends among the other faiths, found such goodness out there, that my life has been blessed enormously. It has given me so much hope and optimism for the future. It reminds me that the world is a good place, despite much wickedness and confusion. We know that come the Millennium, good people of all faiths will be there, making the Zion communities for which we all long. I have found many of them here in Wales; they can be found wherever you live.
Fortunately for me, Julie Jones had been the interfaith specialist for the adjoining Merthyr Stake and had done a great job in representing the Church and getting the Interfaith Council for Wales (a voluntary body of faith leaders, chaplains, and representatives of local interfaith bodies) to meet for more than their annual administrative meetings, and to start learning about each other. There were now several activities that I was invited to attend with her, several put on by the Interfaith Council and others put on by the faiths themselves.
It was during this time that I felt inspired to start a Welsh Interfaith Choir, with our stake Choir Director, Lisa Pengilley, as chorister. It was popular. and attracted around 50 people for regular monthly practices. Being involved in this choir and learning to sing the words of MP Jo Cox, who died in 2016, “We have far more in common than that which divides us”, led to many moist eyes in the room, not to mention mine.
I was keen to get as many people as possible at grass roots involved in this work and started a program of events known as Faiths in Focus, where the different faiths invited others to celebrate a festival with them. This was a great chance for members of different faiths and cultures to mix, from which further friendship developed.
These activities culminated in a big event during Interfaith Week in November 2019. (The organisation of this was personally stressful, due to Chair having resigned just three weeks earlier.) The choir sang at our chapel in Cardiff at the end of a wonderful torchlit walk between three other places of worship, supported by around 150 people of different faiths and including an MP, a Welsh Assembly Member and its Deputy Minister. I had spent a lot of time praying for the success of the event and was powerfully reminded that this was His Church and work, and not mine—I should not worry quite as much.
Then to my immense surprise and shock, after only a year of sitting on the Council, I was elected its Chair (Julie had by now been called to important work elsewhere). I was consumed for a short time with many doubts and worries that I would sink amidst all the many things I needed to do, and how could I possibly balance my life? However, in the middle of my anxiety, I found myself reading an Ensign Article which touched me deeply (October 2019, Blessings of a gospel perspective), this section in particular:
‘In the midst of your personal and diverse needs, to balance life’s pursuits and challenges with your spirituality, you will come to realise that balance is achievable. The Lord does not require you to do something you cannot accomplish … As daunting as keeping this balance may seem, I promise that one of the greatest miracles of your mortal existence will be your ability to find balance between your spirituality and other important life roles. This can take place in a way that will allow you not just to maintain your spirituality and life’s important roles at status quo, but also to grow and develop in both these important areas.’
Remarkably, it has proved true, and most of the time I manage to keep all the ‘balls in the air’. Curiously, ever since being Chair, due to COVID the Council has never met in person and yet I would say that we are much closer than ever, as we have met more often using Zoom to try and deal with the needs of people, organising service, encouraging members to take the vaccine, supporting each other’s activities, and so on. And now I am blessed with two able interfaith specialists, one from each stake.
In conclusion, my latest musings follow from recent readings in Come Follow Me (relating how some were commanded to go to Missouri, some to stay, some to sell, some to go on missions, some to teach in their locality, and so on), that we all have different life journeys, different roles to play, and we are all much needed in these roles. There is little point in comparing ourselves. We each just need to do the best we can in the role(s) we have been given. For me it is interesting that I was stuck in my solicitor job, but there is little doubt that it has assisted my path in interfaith work; particularly in the small country Wales, where we have regular opportunity to rub shoulders with politicians, mayors, and their like. But each of our journeys is different. And sometimes God does not reveal the future all at once. And sometimes, things take longer than we think, but He has it all in hand if we just make ourselves available and listen. And knowing that He is on our side helps us do things that we might never have the courage to do without Him. And it is our job, just like those early saints who were asked to create Zion out of the wild, wild West, which must have seemed impossible to them, as it may be to us to build Zion here, in our own communities, particularly in troubled times.